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Although the following command returns an exit status that depends on the existence of the remote file:

ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile" > $sshOutputFile

which I can then test to do some stuff, it sometimes hangs (1 out of 10 or 20) and blocks further code execution.

So I need to run a ssh command like this one and to retrieve the exit value of the ls function:

(ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile" > $sshOutputFile ; lsReturnValue=$?) &
timeOutProcess $!

However, lsReturnValue always return an empty string.

timeOutProcess is a function that kills my command if it lasts for too much time:

timeOutProcess() {

    #from http://www.bashcookbook.com/bashinfo/source/bash-4.0/examples/scripts/timeout3
        ((t = timeout))

        while ((t > 0)); do
            sleep $interval
            kill -0 $processId || return 0
            ((t -= interval))
        # Be nice, post SIGTERM first.
        # The 'exit 0' below will be executed if any preceeding command fails.
        kill -s SIGTERM $processId && kill -0 $processId || exit 0
        sleep $delay
        kill -s SIGKILL $processId
    ) 2> /dev/null  

I wonder how could I get the $? value from the ssh command ?

share|improve this question
Not a direct answer as there's multiple possible causes of this, but here are 2 points. Because lsReturnValue is being set inside a subshell (the parenthesis, ()), you cannot access it outside the subshell. Also there is a timeout command in just about every Linux distro, so you don't have to write your own timeOutProcess function. – Patrick Mar 26 '13 at 4:05
My need is just to get the $? value for the ssh command. I tried this, but I agree that it is not a good solution. Thanks for the timeout command info – lauhub Mar 26 '13 at 10:52
up vote 1 down vote accepted

You have two ways of obtaining the return status of the ssh process using standard shell features: either run it synchronously, or call the wait builtin. When you run

(ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile" > $sshOutputFile ; lsReturnValue=$?) &

this only sets lsReturnValue in the subshell, and you can't get any information other than the return status back to the parent shell. So you'd have to run exit $lsReturnValue from the subshell and obtain the subshell's return status from the parent shell; and then the whole background process could be simplified to ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile" > $sshOutputFile & anyway.

This shell snippet you found to allow a command to time out isn't a very good one because it doesn't retain the return status. On Linux, use the timeout utility.

Without the timeout utility, it gets a little tricky. You need to run two subprocesses: the one you're interested in, and one that runs sleep for the timeout part. If either process returns, it must kill the other one and allow the shell to proceed. Unfortunately, the wait builtin waits until all subprocesses have died when you call it with no argument. One way to synchronize the two processes is to make them both write to a pipe and kill them once some data appears on the pipe.

    { ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile" > $sshOutputFile
      echo $?; } &
    { sleep 5; echo timeout; } &
  } | head -n 1)
if [ "$lsReturnValue" = "timeout" ]; then …

If you're sending commands to multiple servers, seriously consider using an ssh multi-server framework such as mussh, clusterssh, etc.

share|improve this answer
Wow, it is a really complete answer. Nice trick given for the two processes synchronization. Actually, I finally just use the timeout utility which is exactly what I needed (since it also allows to kill the process if necessary). – lauhub Mar 29 '13 at 15:35

Your command is getting hanged at times because of the OpenSSH feature which prevents SSH session from closing until all IO opened by process running in the SSH session are closed properly.

One way to prevent this is to redirect your STDIN and STDOUT to some thing other that the terminal.

ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile > /dev/null < /dev/null 2>&1"

# lsReturnValue=$?

If you need the STDOUT/STDERR of the command you can redirect them to a file and cat it later

ssh $userAtServer "ls $targetDir/$targetFile > /tmp/ls_output < /dev/null 2>&1;cat /tmp/ls_output"

share|improve this answer
+1 for the stdin/stdout/stderr trick. However, I prefer using the timeout utility to be sure my ssh test will not stop the whole program. – lauhub Mar 29 '13 at 15:39

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